A to Z of Campaigning tactics

 

When faced with a closing library, many communities will campaign for them.  This webpage lists some of the ways that they do so. See the details below and also see the excellent Voices For The Library webpage “What can you do?” from which a lot of this is taken.

  • Auctions -  Raise money via auctions, such as this one from Save The Libraries.
  • Badges, bags and other merchandise.  This could be the answer to making some money for the campaign as well as getting your message across. Several websites such as Zazzle will arrange for manufacture, distribution and retail of items that have been designed by a library campaign . A prominent example of merchandise are the “save our libraries” ribbons produced by  Voices for the Library (initially an idea of the Oxfordshire campaign) that have been worn by Philip Pullman and Melvyn Bragg.
  • Book Sales.  A natural way to raise money for any group of library lovers, Brent raised over £900 at one to help suppor their legal challenge.
  • Cards – Delivering cards to councillor’s homes - see Sefton where 426 Christmas cards from children opposing closures were distributed.
  • Clearing the library shelves of books. This involves encouraging supporters to take the maximum amount of books out on their card.  The tactice gained worldwide attention when first used at Stony Strafford Library and then national attention when subsequently used at Isle of Wight and Warwickshire libraries. There is also a  theory that clearing the shelves (and then presumably extending their loan forever) would mean the library cannot close but there is no clear evidence that this is true.  Extra points if you offer to shelve the books afterwards when they’re returned.
  • Comedy nights e.g. at Brent. or Quiz nights e.g. Camden.
  • Consultation.  Ensure as many people as possible are aware of any consultation relating to the cuts/closures and encourage replies.  It is also worth seeing if the Council has followed correct procedure in producing the consultation in the first place – see this posting on consultations for ideas on what makes a good consultation and for the legal side.
  • Costs.  Sometimes the costs of the building are put forward as a reason for closing it.  It is worth investigating these costs.  For example, £66,000 needed for Colehill Library, Dorset is for windows only needed for five years time and could only cost £17,500 if done via local contacts.
  • Councillors.  It begins an ends with councillors.  Persuade enough councillors that your library needs to be saved and it will be.  Your efforts must therefore be always made with an eye to them – try avoiding being party political as this will necessarily alienate councillors of that viewpoint and you will need a majority, especially if councillors are allowed a “free vote” at the vital council meetings.  Find out who the local councillors are, who is the portfolio holder for libraries, who the council leader is, etc and focus your efforts on them and those who they listen to.  Make every effort, at least in the early stages, to talk to them in as non-confrontational way as possible.  All of your other tactics, until the final vote, should be devoted to the over-riding aim of persuading the councillors as the only other ways of deciding the issue are with legal action (expensive and risky) or appealing for help from the DCMS (who have been entirely passive so far).  Write to your Councillors - A sample letter is here.
  • “Day of Action”.  A big special event day combining all supporters to make as big a noise as possible, either nationally (such as 5th February Save Our Libraries Day) or locally (see Waltham Forest).  This will concentrate minds wonderfully, gain maximum publicity and, if successful, be very useful in publicising the cause.  However, there is a danger that the campaign will lose momentum after such a day and so the timing of it within the overall strategy should be carefully considered, especially with regard to maximum persuasive impact on councillors (see above).
  • “Double Taxation” – Point out that having to support a library through parish council taxes or through volunteers/other contributions is a form of double taxation as the inhabitant are still paying council tax for the surviving public libraries in larger towns in the area.
  • Dress up.  People are more likely to sign petitions (and media more likely to cover protests) if costumes are used.  Father Christmas works well but clearly has a certain seasonal limitation.
  • EqualitiesCheck the deprivation index of your neighbourhood via the Church Urban Fund to bolster your case for keeping the library open (likely) and/or pressure the DCMS for intervention (unlikely).
  • Estate agents.  Yes, estate agents.  A Brent estate agent is offering to put up Save Libraries placards if people contact him plus giving £15 to the campaign.
  • Facebook, Twitter and other “social media” – See these as just another vital way of getting your message across but one which you control rather than the local newspaper or radio.  There’s lots of books (available from the library, naturally) on how to use them.  Gaining the support of prominent tweeters (the biggest being Stephen Fry) will instantly get your message across and even lead to the major problems for the council, as it has done in Toronto (a list of celebrities know to promote libraries are at the bottom of this page).  Sometimes, metely setting up a Facebook group can get media coverage.
  • Freedom of Information Requests are a very powerful tool in discovering if decisions have been made with due regard to legal process. Exemptions are sometimes used. Councils are can also be seemingly obstructive as demonstrated by the repeated requests required in this case from Leeds where long delays and reference to environmental legislation was used.  See also this article on employee gagging clauses.

    Sample request

    FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000

    REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

    NB: in this document: (a) references to x (b) references to y, (c) etc’ .

    To: [name of recipient/organisation], Freedom of Information Section

    Request

    [name of recipient/organisation] is asked pursuant to s.1 of the Act to provide the following information in accordance with s.10 of the Act:

    [Insert actual request for this information]

    Supply of such information as attachment (s) to an e-mail is acceptable.

    Dated:

  • Fun Runs and “Cycle for literacy”.
  • Get the Manic Street Preachers in the Charts. One of their songs starts with the words “Libraries gave us power” and the group have been consistent supporters of public libraries.  A Facebook group exists to push for a co-ordinated campaign. At the least, have a read of this article by the bassist and lyricist of the Manics, Nicky Wires, “If you tolerate this…”.
  • Holding a Read-In.  Three websites describe what is a Read-In, how to do a Read-In and the impact of Read-Ins. Combination with other tactics, such as a celebrity or an Eat-In will further boost the impact.
  • Human chain.  A standard weapon in the armory of protestors for decades, this can be used to great effect (and for a great press photo) around a threatened library.  “Protesters linked arms to form a human chain around one of Bolton’s under-threat libraries. The mass demonstration took place at Bromley Cross Library” (Bolton News).
  • Invent your own technique - There’s tons of suggestions on this page but it you’ve done one I haven’t included, please email ianlibrarian@live.co.uk and let me know.
  • Joke - Politicians of any level hate people laughing at them, so make them a figure of fun.  See this great song about Ed Vaizey being Lazy for a start.
  • Keep any official letters, council responses etc.  Retain any correspondence with the council or other relevant people such as the Secretary of State.  Such material could be handy for a possible future legal challenge.
  • Library Posters. Brilliant pro-library posters have been produced by Phil Bradley, one of which is the symbol of Public Libraries News, reproduced here with acknowledgement.
  • Library Protest Signs are essential for explaining the message and for extra impact in photographs.
  • Marches are in theory a good tactic,e.g Bentham to Settle, but may in practice be difficult to organise and carry through.
  • Media attention may make or break a campaign.  There are library-specificguidelines for contacting the media and also a list of  local newspaper contacts
  • Ministers.  Ed Vaizey if the minister in charge of libraries and Jeremy Hunt is the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.  A letter (this one taken from Brent) can be sent to one or both.
  • (Not) a Book Burning Party.  Campaigners in Troy in the USA put up “Bookburning Party” banners to “celebrate” the proposed closure of the library.  This tactic is to be approached with caution due to (a) the strong possibility of alienating support (comparing opponents with the Nazis is normally acknowledged as the same as losing the argument) and (b)  being accused of spreading falsehood if done wrongly.
  • Oh my gosh, celebrity supporters.  The media really appreciates having a famous figure to interview, photograph or quote.  Support of a sufficiently famous figure is a news story in its own right and will, at least, boost coverage.  Prominent existing examples of library-campaign celebrities are Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith, although there are very many more.  Gaining a support with a large twitter following can cause massive boosts to petitions – for example, Margaret Atwood crashed the Toronto petition server with appeals to her 225,000 “followers”.  Also, an “Evening With…” event such as with Phillip Pullman in Brent can raise money for the cause.
  • Petitions.  Organising a petition is one of the most common and effective campaigning tactics.  Official guidance on petitions is available. PetitionYourCouncil.com is website that makes it easy to see if your local council allows petitions. Depending on your council’s policy, a 5,000 (sometimes 10,000, sometimes less) name petition will ensure the decision is debated again, although not necessarily reversed. Physical petitions (with real signatures) tend to carry more weight than electronic ones. Petitioning the Prime Minister is also possible.
  • Petition with books.  Why petition the old-fashioned way?  Put your name and the reason you are against the cut in question/why you love the library in an unwanted paperback/hardback and “donate” it to the library and/or put it on the stairs of County Hall at the time of an important council meeting, with a photographer in attendance.  A more graphic, but perhaps a less legitimate, way to petition.  [Idea from personal conversation with Salford activist].
  • Picketing.  Picketing the library (or Council headquarters) may get headlines, as here in Detroit.
  • Promote the threatened library – Councils look at usage figures when deciding if a library is “viable” or not.  So, the more use a library gets, the safer it is.  For a campaigner, it is therefore useful to promote events and what the threatened library offers, especially if the decision to close may be in the next financial year (that is, the current year’s statistics will be used).  Such promotion is also very difficult for the council or senior library service officers to disagree with and will gain even more support for your campaign.
  • Protests are always great for a local newspaper photograph, especially when combined with placards etc.  It’s best to inform the police that you’re holding one and, to be certain, check who owns the land that you are planning to protest on.  If it is council land (which it will be if the protest will be held inthe library and quite likely to be if helddirectly outside it) then permission for the council needs to be obtained.  For further information see The Liberty Guide to Human Rights on “static demonstrations and assemblies” and protesting on private land.
  • Questioning the legality of the cuts is examined in depth on the legal action page.
  • Quidco or similar.  A useful fundraising measure – get a campaign log in and encourage your supporters to buy what they would normall buy (or even get an insurance quote) via the Quidco website.  Each purchase earns some money for your campaign.
  • Ready to squat in the library? As pioneered in Friern Barnet. “The Occupy movement has raised a great deal of awareness of global inequality but has not focused on or achieved small, concrete wins such as this one. The Barnet residents’ protests fell on deaf ears until the squatters supported by Occupy moved in. Squatters have had an opportunity to rebrand themselves as socially responsible, community minded individuals who are working to restore closed-down public services. The local residents are clear that without the input of the squatters and Occupy, the library would not have reopened.” (Guardian, 6/2/13).
  • Save libraries by spending it more wisely, rather than cutting services.  One way of doing this is via shared servicesBexley and Bromley are merging library services instead of closing libraries, albeit at a loss of 35 jobs.
  • Schools will often get behind library campaigns (they understand the importance of public libraries very well) and it’s a great way to get large numbers involved.  Go one further and do a school competition on the importance of libraries for extra points.
  • Songs to sing.  Don’t Close Our Libraries by One Man and His Beard.  We love libraries by Sly and Reggie. Welcome to Austerity by Doyle and the Fourfathers.  At the Library by Lorraine King is pure library propaganda but none the worst for it – “at the library, it’s all for free…” . Cursor Miner has done a song called “Library” (also with a “books for free” rhyme) with an animated video.  Boasting six inch characters dancing on books and the line “having fun is never hard if you have a library card is Shhhh (a song about libraries) by Sky Rocket Jack.  An absolutely brilliant and hilarious song about a novel way to save libraries but hardly for the easily offended – Do it in the Library by Jonny and the Baptists.  Also, a nice happy general song about libraries and the Dewey rap (by Joan McElfresh) and another dewey rap (by Melvil). A very specific one about the competence or otherwise of Ed Vaizey when it comes to libraries is What’s wrong with Ed Vaizey? by John Dougherty.  You could also try this Adele-inspired pro library music video If you love to read.
  • Starting a blog is a useful communication tool both for those interested in the campaign and for the media. Examples are the web pages of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and Save Doncaster Libraries
  • Statistics.  It’s always useful to quote facts and figures in argument and to add weight to the case that the cuts are being unequal (which can have a strong legal bearing).  The following stats may be used to your advantage in demonstrating comparable library usage, expenditure and poverty levels:
  1. Poverty in England – A postcode searchable database of poverty by area is at http://www.cuf.org.uk/povertyinengland.
  2. Guardian datablog on UK library stats at http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/dec/11/library-visitors-books-issued-fall-performance-data#data.
  3. Cipfa stats on provision and funding of libraries by library authority – http://www.cipfastats.net/librariesprofilesdcms/.
  4. Financial times austerity audit map showing cuts by local authority (not the same as library authority) – http://ig.ft.com/austerity-map/.
  • Telephone tree. A useful approach if a piece of information needs to be distributed through a group fast perhaps to be aware of an important piece of information or be able to gather at very short notice. This is where everyone “has two people on their tree to call, those people in turn have two people to call and so on. It’s something that is useful for emergency get togethers – eg if someone sees the council piling into the library in order to close it. Everyone needs the numbers of people at the top of the tree to call in order to start the cascade.” (with thanks to the Brent campaign).
  • UNISON.  This is the main trade union for library staff.  Contact the local branch office to see what library staff are really thinking about the cuts/closures (they may well have been ordered not to talk to campaigners), to co-ordinate the campaign and for other support.
  • Unite with other groups.  The chances are your local council is not just closing one library.  Other groups will form to save “their” library.  It’s more effective to combine these groups into a joint campaign in order to share time, information and, as importantly, to ensure one group does not get played off against another (“well, x said they could run the library by themselves with £5000, why can’t you?”).  One big petition is better than ten different ones as the suspicion will be that people have signed different ones. Examples = Gloucestershire (FoGL), Dorset (AdLib).
  • Visual props.  Use something to grab people’s attention.  For instance, rigging up a fake “mobile library” van in Killyleagh attracted not only local press attnetion but also the interest of a passing visiting Dutch pastor who stopped and gave a Youtube video interview on why closing libraries is a bad idea which was then used in publicity … these things can snowball.
  • Visit to parliament.  Get a coachload of campaigners, go to London and “green card” a bunch of local MPs to meet them there.  For good measure, write briefing notes for campaigners and arrange to hand in a petition to 10 Downing Street.  Use your own hashtag for the day for Twitter and let celebrities know so they can send in support.  Sounds impossible?  Lincolnshire did it.
  • World Record attempt.  Bound to gain media interest.  Get over 200 and you stand a chance of beating the record for a reading relay while at the same time as promoting the cause of literacy/libraries for all.
  • Write to the Secretary of State. Seelegal action” page“Libraries are a statutory service, governed by the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  Many areas stand to lose a significant number of their community libraries, mobile services and frontline staff.  The Secretary of State is required under the Act to intervene when a council’s library service is in breach of its statutory obligations.   Receiving numerous letters from library users, authors and organisations will alert the Secretary of State to public concern. Letters will request him to exercise his powers of intervention under the 1964 Act.”.  A sample letter is here.  You can also email the Prime Minister.
  • Write to your local MP. Contact details of your MP can be found at TheyWorkForYou
  • Xcite your supporters and potential supporters by thinking up a gimmick like an “A to Z” page and shoehorning your facts into it for increased publicity.
  • Youtube it.  Videos are a useful addition to your campaign website, facebook page etc eg.  “We Love Libraries” above from the Somerset campaign.
  • Zombies. Your campaign could do with a gimmick, why not this one?
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